Month’s rent relieves financial pressure

Claudia Salgado has always wanted more for her daughters.

Salgado’s own mother died when she was 7, and nine months later her father moved from Mexico to Point Reyes Station to make money for the family. Salgado said she had no toys, and her new guardians in Mexico expected her to work like a grown-up.

“I can see myself in them – a second chance,” Salgado said, watching her 6- and 8-year-old daughters play. “They can have things I didn’t have when I was a kid.”

The 32-year-old mother has worked multiple jobs for most of her life, including helping out with her relatives’ cafe in Point Reyes Station. But after a series of setbacks – including a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a separation from her husband and a lost job – Salgado found herself in need of short-term help.

She heard about The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund from a worker at the West Marin Community Resource Center. The fund provided a month’s rent, allowing Salgado to get current with bills.

“They said it has to be an emergency,” she recalled. “I said, ‘This is an emergency.’ I know things are going to improve. I know it can get better. But I need to get past this problem.”

Salgado moved at age 11 to a seaside ranch on the Marin coast to live with her father. She had never seen the ocean.

“We thought we were going to drown,” she said. “I came from a city to this little town with a lot of cows and a huge ocean.”

Salgado graduated from high school, went to culinary school and then dived into work – at one point living in Mexico City and helping cook a meal for then-Mexico President Vicente Fox.

“We cooked squash soup. He really loved it,” Salgado says. “I didn’t know what to say to him. The first thing that I said was ‘You smell so good.’ ”

Salgado moved back to California and married, but didn’t think she could have children. She considers both of her daughters, now in first and third grades, to be miracles.

“I made a promise that I was going to take care of them no matter what,” she said. “They would not get hurt, they would not go starving and they would not have to work when they were 7.”

The first years of motherhood were joyous much of the time, but her undiagnosed bipolar disorder caused mood swings and self-destructive behavior that her husband and relatives had a hard time understanding. She went to a hospital and was diagnosed, but it took 1 1/2 years to get the right combination of medications to stave off the worst depression.

Lived in living room

She lost a good job at a local bakery, and spent a year crammed with her daughters in her father’s living room.

But Salgado said she didn’t want to move away from her support network, including kind neighbors and a school that had supported her daughters during their toughest times. Then she got lucky – her current apartment is modest, but it’s clean, extremely affordable for the area and the landlord has been kind.

‘Happy and safe’

“He’s wonderful – he was putting smoke alarms and (carbon monoxide) detectors everywhere,” she said. “It makes me feel so happy and safe.”

Then Salgado gets a call on her cell phone – the ring tone is a recording of her daughters’ voices. It’s some business from her new job, working for a clothing shipping warehouse next to her family’s cafe.

Older daughter Xochilt takes the opportunity to pull a gecko out of a terrarium and place it on their guest’s head. Younger daughter Lizbeth takes a cell phone photo.

Salgado said she’s thankful for the help from Season of Sharing, and is looking forward to the future. She likes her jobs, and is thinking about going back to school. And her children have been thankful for what they have – even during the hard times.

“They’re sweet, they’re happy and very understanding,” Salgado said. “They’re great kids, and this is her home.”